Innovation for Uncertainty By: Anne Meneghetti, MD
During my pulmonary fellowship, I recall a thoracic surgeon boldly declaring, "Whenever I see a pre-op chest x-ray with coronary calcifications, those are the patients I worry about for complications. So, I do extra cardiac work-ups on them." Inwardly, I rolled my eyes and labeled his anecdotal correlations as "totally unscientific."
Flash forward two decades, and I found myself smiling while reading the 2010 AHA/ACC recommendation on CT coronary artery calcification scoring for asymptomatic patients at intermediate CVD risk. That surgeon had made a connection where I saw none. What if a brain bigger than yours or mine could discover meaningful correlations that could improve care? IBM supercomputer Watson might be up for the challenge. After besting human champions on Jeopardy! in 2011, Watson went to medical school, using natural language processing to consume vast volumes of medical literature and clinical records.
Watson can synthesize the entire career experience of thousands of clinicians across various specialties. Submit clinical case details, and the pizza-box-sized computer will return statistical probabilities associated with various courses of action, along with supporting evidence. Guided by medical experts, Watson has lately been specializing in cancer care to support complex decision-making. It can bring to the table a synthesis of big data unaffected by personal bias.
Through rounds of feedback from clinicians, the supercomputer refines its analysis of predicted clinical outcomes. "One unique aspect of the MD Anderson Oncology Expert Advisor, powered by Watson, is that it will not solely rely on established cancer care pathways to recommend appropriate treatment options," explained Lynda Chin, M.D., professor and chair of Genomic Medicine and scientific director of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science at MD Anderson. "The system was built with the understanding that what we know today will not be enough for many patients."
Like Watson, at Epocrates, we synthesize relevant data, big and small, to support the decisions you make in the moments of care. We wish Watson a very bright future.